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Kenya taps into mobile phones to spread awareness on COVID-19

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XINHUA 08 MAR 2020

Widespread mobile phone use in Kenya is turning out to be an asset in the east African nation’s efforts to keep coronavirus at bay.

While Kenya has not recorded any case of the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) classifies Kenya as the sixth high-risk nation in Africa.

The country in the past weeks has tested 23 suspected cases of the virus, but all of them have turned out negative.

But Kenya is not taking chances as several African countries record COVID-19 cases.

On Friday, Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe announced a raft of measures to keep the virus out of its borders.

They included screening of passengers at all entry points, cancellation of all international conferences, setting up special units to deal with suspected cases and spread of awareness.

“We have launched a free SMS service to send information for free to mobile phones. Every Kenyan will be getting information about the disease, and what to do to avoid infections,” Kagwe said.

The SMS service is standing out as the east African nation taps into its huge mobile phone subscription base to reach millions of citizens.

Kenya has over 53 million mobile phone subscribers, according to the Communication Authority.

On Saturday, Kenyans started to receive tailored messages on coronavirus from the government to boost awareness.

“Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory disease affecting the world. There are no cases in Kenya. It spreads via a cough or sneeze,” said one of the messages from the Ministry of Health.

Another message asks citizens, who are traveling outside the country, to dial a specific code to get the updates.

Kenyans have lauded the messages, congratulating the government for taking great steps to keep the virus at bay.

“The government is doing a great job on information sharing as well as Covid-19 preparedness,” said Muthoni Njakwe, a digital media strategist.

Most Kenyans who had received the message on Saturday morning said they were looking forward to more.

“This is really good. It shows the government is keen on ensuring Kenya free of the virus,” said a university student Sharon Akoth.

The government is disseminating similar messages on its social media platforms, to reach millions of Kenyans mostly young people who use the apps.

“Maintain basic hand and respiratory hygiene and avoid close contact with people suffering from respiratory infections,” the Health Ministry said in a message on Twitter and Facebook.

Bernard Mwaso of Edell IT Solution, a Nairobi-based software development start-up, said in times of crisis, digital messaging is the easiest way to reach the mass.

“Mobile phone messages work best because they target individuals, not groups. People are therefore able to give such messages attention and can read them over and over again in their private spaces whether they have internet or not,” he said.

To complement government efforts, private companies have similarly stepped up efforts to educate their workers on measures to keep the virus at bay through seminars and online messages.

“Wash hands with soap and water, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands and clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces,” a message form insurance firm AON to its employees says. Enditem

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